Two thousand fifteen
From everything we’ve been hearing, 2015 will be an epically great year in most of the major wine regions in France. As both a wine lover and a football fan, I tend to look at hyperbolic pronouncements of quality this early in the game in the same way as I do NFL Training Camps. Everybody’s a winner before the season actually starts. But the En Premieur tastings have come and gone for Bordeaux and the results look very promising. Burgundy, specifically the reds from the Cote de Nuits, are going to be enjoying its best vintage since 2010 and will, perhaps, surpass. We’re hearing the same kind of talk from the Rhone and the Loire. It’s shaping up to be one of those vintages where if you couldn’t make a great wine in 2015 then you might want to consider a different line of work.
But there is an interesting change in the overall market which those of us in the industry will be watching carefully. How much power will critics possess when it comes to 2015? In one of the largest, and most underreported, wine stories of the last year, Robert Parker has quietly stepped out of reviewing Bordeaux, with Neal Martin taking over the duties. Parker’s ability to move the market is without parallel. For the last 30 years, especially when it comes to Bordeaux, his opinion of a vintage and the specific superstars were worth untold millions in sales and recognition. Now, with the rise of the internet wine critic, and the ease at which informal evaluations can travel, it will be a true test to the continued relevance of the wine critic in general to paint a picture of an entire vintage, as opposed to just specific wines. We have certainly seen a decrease in the Wine Advocate’s power in recent years, with Antonio Galloni’s Vinous moving very much to the fore as the go-to resource for reviews and general judgements. And we’ve certainly seen Mr. Galloni’s ability to single-handedly drive the fortunes of Italian vintages (Brunello and Barolo 2010 come to mind). But with Mr. Parker’s departure, the fine wine business might be staring down the first great vintage in its modern history where a single authoritative voice isn’t in the position to give a “thumbs-up/thumbs-down”.
My personal prediction is there will be plenty of excitement about the 2015 vintage but we will see, for the first time, the true effect of the specialized, and sometimes amateur, voices which have risen to prominence in the last decade. Whether it’s from people like us, who try to offer as unbiased an opinion as possible whilst still making a living, or specialists like Allen Meadows or David Schildknect, or even the dozens of blogs dedicated to small bits of territory, I believe 2015 will be the year where the Voice of God goes silent with an army of prophets in its place. Ultimately, this is a truly liberating and exciting time for wine (though admittedly more challenging) and will only serve to enhance its diversity. A single voice is easy to hear but it can only say one thing. A dozen voices can become a choir.
Winemaking Matters! (Savoy)
File this one under “quick and obvious observations” but we recently did our all Savoy Vineyard dinner, where we compared different producer’s expression of the great Savoy Vineyard in Anderson Valley. It was a wonderful evening and a truly eye-opening wine experience for me personally but there was one particular point which stuck with me. Wow, does winemaking matter. “Well, duh, JT”. Let me explain. We were tasting two Pinot Noir right next to each other. Both were Savoy Vineyard, both from 2012. One of them was Radio-Coteau and one of them was…not very good. I’m not going to identify the latter because throwing shade is not what we do but this was about as close to comparing apples and apples as you could possibly get (same varietal, vineyard, and vintage). One was stunning, the other decidedly mediocre. Terroir is a tremendously important thing, I would never deny that, but so is its interpreter.
I told this story to Chris Cottrell (one of the owners of Bedrock Vineyard, more on him below) and he said the following, “It’s really hard to make good wine from bad terroir but it’s terrifyingly easy to make terrible wine from great terroir.” Wow, does winemaking matter J
There really is SO much good champagne
This has been happening quietly and over time so it’s not a particularly mind-shattering revelation but it really is amazing how much good Champagne is currently available. The rise of the Grower Champagne movement (which are the vignerons who previously sold their grapes to the big houses, of which there are over EIGHT THOUSAND in Champagne, making wine under their own steam) has literally flooded the market with a truly dizzying array of options at all quality levels. When I first started in wine, there were maybe 20 houses which were extant or worth of note. Fifteen years later, I could probably name 50 wines off the top of my head. From the tiniest of boutique producers to resurgent mid-tier houses, I have a hard time believing there has ever been a time when there was more top-level bubbly available to enthusiasts. We’ve some very neat plans for Champagne related events in the Fall (including a tasting featuring a certain British wine writer whose name rhymes with OO Tonhson) but I would highly encourage anyone who likes Champagne to just start trying bottles. Truly, it is almost impossible to go wrong nowadays.
2 Awesome California Anecdotes
Anecdotes are the way I make myself seem interesting so here are two of my recent favorites:
Anecdote the First-
Ric Foreman is currently celebrating his 40th vintage in Napa. He makes one of my favorite Chards in all of California but before he ran his own winery, he was the original winemaker of Newton (this is in the 70s before it was sold to Coca Cola). He left Newton on not the greatest of terms so he needed a lawyer. He approached a young Napa attorney by the name of Jess Jackson and, in exchange for some lawyerin’, he gave Jess some pointers on how to make Chardonnay. That wine became Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay! Napa Valley has certainly changed!
Anecdote the Second-
I recently met with Chris Cottrell, part owner of Bedrock Winery. The jewel in their crown is the remarkable Bedrock Vineyard, with some of the oldest heritage vines in all of California. The original owner was a man by the named of Joseph B. Hooker. If you’re a Civil War enthusiast, you might recognize his name as one of the bumbling Union Commanders before Lincoln finally found U.S. Grant. If you’re…a different kind of enthusiast, you might recognize his last name has gone down in the vernacular because of the tremendous number of ladies of questionable morals who followed his army around. And silent partner in General Hooker’s vineyard venture? William Tecumseh Sherman! He was another of the great Generals for the Union (though you might not think too highly of him if you’re from Atlanta). And the person who bought the Bedrock Vineyard form those two gentlemen? None other than the father of William Randolph Hearst! Cool, right?!?
Bourbon is still ridiculous
In the fall, when the Antique Collection from Buffalo Trace is being released, I always fantasize about putting up a sign which reads, “No we do not have Pappy Van Winkle”, just to save myself the breath. Anyone who is a Bourbon enthusiast must be well aware at this point we are in the deep, dark bottom crest of a serious Bourbon shortage. Case in point, Elmer T. Lee. This used to be a bourbon which you’d see on most liquor store shelves. It would cost around $40-ish. It was a lovely bottle which was nowhere near the top of the quality pyramid but certainly a LONG WAY from the bottom. Today, right now, I was just informed my allocation for the QUARTER will be 2 bottles! And when I looked on line, people are selling it for $200! Meanwhile, Pappy Van Winkle is selling on the secondary market for thousands of dollars. And this is not a situation where the Bourbon distilleries are riding the wave of interest right to the bank. They’re trying to sell everything they can. The fact is it will be another couple of years before 5+ year old Bourbons IN ANY WAY comes remotely close to matching the demand. Now, the good news is there has been an explosion of craft distilleries laying down small quantities of all different styles of whiskey over the last couple of years so when we emerge from this Bourbon Black Hole, it will be into the glorious light of a new Golden Age. But of course that doesn’t do anything for those of us who just need a drink…
Kelli White is Wonderful
We recently hosted Kelli A. White, full-time writer for Vinous Media and author of the best wine book of 2016, Napa Valley: Then & Now, for a tasting and book signing. First of all, she is one of my new favorite people. She couldn’t have been nicer or more generous with her time/knowledge. But what really made my heart get up and sing was the casual way in which she spoke of the older vintages of Napa Valley. As the long time wine director of Press, whose wine list is almost exclusively based on Napa going back decades, she has more experience than nearly anyone living with the bygone vintages of Napa. It was wonderful to hear her speak about Napa in the way usually reserved for Bordeaux or Burgundy or Barolo. It is perhaps too little, too late but I am sensing a growing awareness in the wine community as to how strong were the wines of the late 70s through the middle 90s, not to mention the pre-modern (let’s call it the Tchelistcheff Era, or perhaps just write as I can’t pronounce that man’s name). I had a bottle of 1993 Groth recently which was STUNNING. The trouble is the perception of Napa Valley Cabernet being a perfect candidate for pop and pour means there is a tragic dearth of older bottles lounging in people’s cellars. Unlike the great regions of Europe, there just aren’t many (or any) massive collections of older Napa Cab. Even if there were, Kelli’s book represents, to my mind, the first shot fired over the bow of popular perception regarding the extreme worth of Napa Valley at 20+ years of bottle age. I truly hope people get hip and older Napa Cabs start popping out of the woodwork once a market develops. After all, the Groth 93 had a little price tag on it for $15. I asked my friend if that was the price on release. He said, “No, I just found it in a shop in Connecticut”. Regardless, California wine lovers owe Ms. White a big debt of gratitude. She has written Napa Valley’s truly definitive account and for that I am truly thankful!
Congrats to Yannick & Heidi
Finally, I want to say a big CONGRATULATIONS to our own Yannick Benjamin who married Ms. Heidi Turzyn, Wine Director Gotham Bar & Grill, last Sunday. I’m not entirely sure how Yannick tricked such a wonderful woman into marrying him we’re truly happy for them both. If anyone reading this would like to send along congratulations, I would recommend donating to Yannick’s charity, Wheeling Forward by clicking here.